France to Italy

L200 Bar­bar­ian vs the Alps – and rugby’s bru­tal Ital­ian an­ces­tor

CAR (UK) - - Aftermarket -

THIRTY BURLY men stand in con­fronta­tion, fists raised, eyes locked on their op­pos­ing for­ward. Then the chaos of bat­tle be­gins. Sway­ing, grap­pling, punch­ing: one player's fore­head splits wide open blood mixes with sweat, and then sand ex­co­ri­ates the open gash as the wounded player is pum­melled into the dust, his legs arc­ing up­wards clothed in what ap­pear to be lady un­der­gar­ments from Pride and Prej­u­dice. Wel­come to Italy and tje Cal­cio Storico. This con­test was dreamt up by aris­to­crats in Florence dur­ing the 16th cen­tury, and while the name trans­lates as ‘his­toric foot­ball’, it looks more like a bru­tal hy­brid of mixed mar­tial arts and rugby. That’s why we’re here, the first of three road trips be­tween the six na­tions that do bat­tle in Europe’s pow­er­house rugby union tour­na­ment. Mit­subishi is a part­ner of Eng­land Rugby and its Scot­tish equiv­a­lent, and we’re do­ing the 1800-mile trip from France to Italy in an L200 pick-up. It’s a suit­ably rugged com­pan­ion to cross the Alps on un­paved roads, be­fore at­tend­ing a game that sees grown men beat each other up The Mit­subishi’s in util­ity what ap­pear ve­hi­cle suc­cess, to seg­ment be with Camelot a has her­itage been cos­tumes. dat­ing piv­otal back to four decades, dur­ing which time well over four mil­lion have been man­u­fac­tured. This fifth-gen­er­a­tion L200 is new from the ground-up, and con­tin­ues to be the only pick-up with a switch­able four-wheel-drive sys­tem; it’s also got a low-range trans­fer ’box, the op­tion to lock the cen­tre diff, 205mm of ground clear­ance, and a huge loadbed to cart about chain­saws, tow ropes and other stuff for bound­ing out into the

wilder­ness. If the only dirt you get un­der your fin­ger­nails comes from some light rose-tend­ing, the L200 is still pretty handy on the road, with Mit­subishi tar­get­ing the re­fine­ment and dy­namism of an SUV with the har­di­ness that’s cen­tral to its award-win­ning pick-up’s ap­peal. Our test car is the lat­est L200 from Mit­subishi Special Ve­hi­cle Projects, a high-spec lim­ited-edi­tion called the Bar­bar­ian SVP II which costs around £30,000 be­fore VAT. On top of the stan­dard spec, you get some eye-catch­ing orange de­tail­ing on the grille, head and tail lights and door han­dle re­cesses, shark-fin side steps, beefed-up whee­larch ex­ten­sions, satin-black rear roll bars and unique orange-and-black 17-inch al­loy wheels wrapped in BF Goodrich All-Ter­rain tyres. For a kid who grew up SVP cov­et­ing II def­i­nitely the Fall strikes Guy truck, a chord. the Bar­bar­ian Four of us ren­dezvous near Calais early on Thurs­day, load­ing all our cam­era and video gear and five days’ lug­gage in the gen­er­ous, lined flatbed. The SVP II also gets a Moun­tain Roll­top re­tractable, lock­able cover to keep all our kit hid­den from pry­ing eyes. You can get sin­gle-cab L200s, but the SVP II comes as a top-spec double-cab, giv­ing acres of room for pas­sen­gers to keep com­fort­able and have a snooze be­tween stints at the wheel. All mod­els get a 2.4-litre tur­bod­iesel good for 179bhp and 40mpg. As we head south on the au­toroute, the L200 pulls keenly through the six man­ual gears, set­tles to a high cruis­ing speed at low revs, and suf­fers only mod­est wind noise. Per­haps most un­ex­pected is how lit­tle road noise seeps north­ern We up fast-for­ward from France, the skirting chunky over the off-road around flat planes Reims, rub­ber. of Di­jon and Lyon on our way south. We’ve got sat-nav, com­fort­able leather seats, dual-zone cli­mate-con­trol, Blue­tooth and a USB charge point, plus hun­dreds of miles be­tween fills – ev­ery­thing we need, in other words, for a stress-free run across an en­tire coun­try. Around 6pm that evening, over 500 miles after we first set off, we find our­selves in Al­bertville, nes­tled on the south-east­ern fringes of the Mas­sif des Bauges national park, leav­ing just a 60-mile dash to the border the next day. We don’t need a wake-up call: with tem­per­a­tures soar­ing to 35degC and no air-con­di­tion­ing in our ho­tel, we’re raring to pay-up and get in the L200’s chilled cabin by 7am the next morn­ing. The scenery is BIG down here, with huge moun­tains fill­ing the wind­screen, vast rocky riverbeds and su­per-sized civil en­gi­neer­ing un­furl­ing ahead of us to tele­port us over the border. We pause at the ski town of Oulx, leav­ing on a road that spi­rals ag­gres­sively4

The L200 is a suit­ably rugged com­pan­ion to cross the Alps, be­fore see­ing grown men beat each other up

up­wards, the ski lifts. tree line, It’s grad­u­ally not past long the nar­row­ing be­fore chalets the and sealed as up it threads to­wards sur­face into the van­ishes al­to­gether. The fine cov­er­ing of sand swirls up be­hind us in a cloudy trail, deep wheel tracks run like rail­way lines, and abrupt hair­pins twist into steep in­clines, forc­ing a shift down to first gear – the man­ual is no sweat, but the op­tional pad­dleshift auto would cer­tainly re­duce the work­load. There’s no need to switch into four-wheel drive just yet – the chunky BF Goodrich tyres and gen­er­ous ground clear­ance are all we need. And, to be fair, the only on­com­ing car we see in the first mile seems to be a su­per­mar­ket de­liv­ery truck. Quickly the road be­comes more chal­leng­ing, though, with deep, muddy ruts filled with wa­ter un­der the shade of evergreen trees. I don’t want to risk giv­ing it a go in rear-wheel drive, so I come to a stop, twist the ro­tary dial near the gear­stick over to four-wheel drive, then push it down and twist it right again to lock the cen­tre dif­fer­en­tial. You wouldn’t do it on the road be­cause the front and rear wheels can’t turn at dif­fer­ent speeds to ac­count for cor­ners, but on a very low-speed slip­pery sur­face, hav­ing all the wheels turn at ex­actly the same speed claws more trac­tion. And if it gets tougher still, a fur­ther twist to the right will en­gage the low-range trans­fer case for lower gear­ing, so you can crawl across par­tic­u­larly tough ground. You can feel the tyres squidge and suck out as much trac­tion as pos­si­ble as we rock through the ruts, and it’s here that the L200 re­ally comes into its own, sto­ically pow­er­ing over the tough­est ter­rain with­out pause or com­plaint. Up and up we climb, the road drop­ping away dra­mat­i­cally to one side, the ter­rain too bumpy to be tack­led at any­thing quicker than walk­ing pace. Thank­fully we meet only moun­tain bikes and mo­tor­bikes up here, and even­tu­ally we reach the sum­mit and a breath­tak­ing panorama, star­ing out over to a part of France that was once Italy, stand­ing right where oc­cu­py­ing Nazi forces bat­tled the re­sis­tance in 1944, end­ing in a bru­tal de­feat at the hands of the Ger­mans. We trace a dif­fer­ent route down the south­ern side of the moun­tain range, the ser­pen­tine4

You can feel the tyres squidge and suck out as much trac­tion as pos­si­ble as we rock through the ruts

De­feated blue sup­port­ers prowl the streets, mus­cles bulging and ch­ests puffed

coil twists sun­burned fall­ing stay morn­ing As of in we road un­til Ce­sana from head with un­furl­ing from we our along five Tori­nese, again starchy a day’s hours the reach in shoot­ing, coast, hair. pro­gres­sively and to a Florence. sealed strike That down fine night out sur­face, from gen­tler dust the we Turin next still to­wards drops, the scenery a fine Genoa looks spray on glo­ri­ously of the rain E80, be­gins the Mediter­ranean, tem­per­a­ture to fall, and with colour­ful lush, houses tow­er­ing just moun­tain­sides vis­i­ble in the hang­ing dot­ted with mist above us. Fi­nally we ease into Florence, pick­ing up our guide Ric­cardo Cacace, who mag­ics tick­ets and se­cures the choic­est view­ing spots. Many of the roads are al­ready closed in prepa­ra­tion for the game, so we park up, grab our kit and lug it half­way across the city, through bustling crowds in tem­per­a­tures that are now back into the 30s. We think we’ve got it tough, then we watch the pre-match pa­rade strut­ting through Pi­azza Della Sig­no­ria. There are peo­ple dressed in full re­nais­sance cos­tume, some toss­ing huge flag­poles 10 or so feet in the air (and, more im­pres­sively, catch­ing them), some wear­ing ar­mour when, re­ally, the po­lice al­ready seem to have ev­ery­thing un­der con­trol. But there is an un­der­cur­rent of ten­sion. Four teams (the whites, blues, greens and reds) take part in the Cal­cio Storico, each one rep­re­sent­ing a dif­fer­ent quar­ter of Florence. Played a cou­ple of weeks pre­vi­ously, the semi-fi­nals have al­ready seen their fair share of in­ci­dent: Ric­cardo tells us a blue player kicked a ref­eree and the whites pro­gressed to play the reds in the fi­nals via an ap­peals process, de­spite the blues lead­ing when the game was aban­doned. To­day, the de­feated blues prowl the streets, all bulging mus­cles, sprawl­ing tat­toos and puffed ch­ests; they chant that the whites need to win on the pitch, not off it, and right now it seems the most im­por­tant thing in the world. The pro­ces­sion leads down the net­work of cool, shady back streets, be­fore fil­ing into the bright sun­light of Pi­azza Santa Croce, where Cal­cio Storico has been played since the 16th cen­tury. Grand­stands frame a stone4

We drive the L200 into the Cal­cio Storico arena, a fit­ting fi­nale for a pick-up that’s taken ev­ery punch and kick

sur­face half each padded net, that – you’d play­ers if Arsene tak­ing with be­longs end. see pe­ri­od­i­cally. spe­cially lower him a Play­ers goal­mouth Wenger care to pop sec­tion, the to cov­ered need out miss cap­tain were of but stretch­ing to the here man­ag­ing in chuck be­low and tent sand and stan­dard in the the and ad­mon­ish the the ball a top width di­vided team, mid­dle; over of bearer the of the the in Maria ends, im­par­tial The the Novella) white grand­stands crowd. (Santo fans It’s Spir­ito) are an ei­ther in­cred­i­ble sep­a­rated and side red a set­ting, at more (Santa op­pos­ing es­pe­cially Croce and rest­ing – the as main place the huge of Fran­cis­can Michelangelo doors of church Basil­ica – seem in di Florence, Santa to be ris­ing con­sumed sea, your by mind the in­com­ing strug­gling red to shirts com­pute like the a jux­ta­po­si­tion. flares and an edgy There un­der­cur­rent are chants and that’s colour­ful part wrestling show­man­ship, part out-of-con­trol testos­terone; some play­ers seem gen­uinely keen to meet op­po­si­tion fans for a quick catch-up after. The white fans are nois­ier, but we de­cide we’d least like to be beaten up by the red play­ers; they look far harder, and we de­cide they’ll win. round. in­cludes isn’t The even game Each in play. team pro­vides goal­keep­ers, In­stead, con­sists a lot the to of but get 27 15 at play­ers for­wards your first head the and ball fight three in to the pairs floor, un­til at one which man­ages point he to must pin the sub­mit other to hu­mil­i­a­tion while the vic­tor swigs a drink or waves at friends. From what I can glean, it seems the ball comes into play once ev­ery bat­tle has a vic­tor, and is thrown be­tween play­ers much as you’d ex­pect in rugby. There’s no sign of an off­side rule like in foot­ball, rugby, Some Each play­ers while time no for­bid­ding trip­ping there’s do get a red score, and of cards the punch­ing a for­ward-pass can­non though. are fires, al­lowed. the like teams 50 long switch min­utes: ends, fight, and sit the on process some­one, re­peats throw for ball, score, can­non, switch. The play­ers never seem to tire, they just get blood­ier, their sweaty bod­ies coated in sand like greasy drum­sticks rolled in bread­crumbs. The whites just keep ahead through­out, and while a half-point is awarded to the reds when a white at­tempt misses its tar­get, they never quite claw back the deficit. It fin­ishes 6 to the whites, 5.5 to the reds. The crowd erupts, the whites bound up to the fences that sep­a­rate them from their fans like fam­ished tigers with a whiff of flesh, fists clenched, flags wav­ing, blood still drip­ping. It cer­tainly makes for a more dra­matic photo op­por­tu­nity than pulling your shirt over your head. That night fire­works explode above the Arno River from Pi­az­zale Michelangelo, colour­fully light­ing up the crowds in spec­tac­u­larly re­lent­less vol­leys. The next morn­ing, we’re granted special per­mis­sion to drive the Mit­subishi L200 into the Cal­cio Storico arena, be­fore the hard-par­ty­ing city wakes, Pi­azza Santa Croce now eerily quiet after the pre­vi­ous day’s in­ten­sity. Look­ing even harder coated in dirt, it’s a fit­ting clos­ing shot for a pick-up that’s taken ev­ery kick and punch we could throw at it. Now all that re­mains is the small mat­ter of 900 or so miles back to Calais.

L200 re­minds Ben Barry of The Fall Guy: how life im­i­tates art

17-inch al­loys shod with BF Goodrich Al­lTer­rain rub­ber Fab­u­lous orange de­tail­ing from Mit­subishi Special Ve­hi­cles

The hills are ali­i­i­i­ive, with the sound of dust-bust­ing

The morn­ing after the ight be­fore: L200 en­ters the arena

‘Any­one miss­ing a ball­cock?’

Spec­tac­u­lar ire­works sig­nal the end of this year’s fes­ti­val

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